Our five steps on how to keep your lone workers safe

Last month, the NHS revealed that almost a quarter of lone workers working in the mental health sector have been assaulted while on the job. That’s one in four hard-working, everyday members of staff attacked for going about their daily work.

To put that in context, just one in a hundred office-bound employees face the same risk in their workplace.

While dangers associated with lone work will never disappear, as employees will always need to spend a proportion of their time visiting clients, customers or patients on their own, the survey flagged up technology as the answer to giving employees the guarantee of the protection they deserve.

With an estimated one in four of us employed as lone workers in roles across everything from agriculture to architecture, postal delivery to pest control, the answer to protecting the population’s most vulnerable employees lies with using recent advances in GPS and telecommunications tech to create solutions.

Weighing up the risk posed to lone workers and looking at how technology can solve these problems should be just a standard part of the risk assessments employers are legally required to conduct. But how should employers best approach this?

Because of the relatively new nature of the term ‘lone worker’, there’s been little guidance on how best to properly risk assess for the role, so we’ve put together a five step plan, based on the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance, on how to protect your employees.

1. Identify hazards

Every job is going to have different responsibilities that come with it, and the first step should be in identifying the possible hazards that come with these separate roles.

Think about what kind of clients or customers your employee might be working with or might encounter – for example, could they be vulnerable, violent, alone or in a group? Question whether they’re likely to have a negative attitude towards your staff.

Look at the locations, environments and times your employee might be working. If late night visits are a common occurrence, this could reflect an increasingly heightened risk. Working in sparsely populated areas or dangerous parts of cities, towns and villages should also be brought into consideration.

Don’t ignore the opinions of your staff – after all, they’re the ones who have worked the shifts and they know the problems better than anyone. Take note of incident logs, paying particular attention to near misses to understand past mistakes and avoid them happening again.

2. Who’s at risk? And how?

The next step should be thinking about which of your employees are at risk and of the risk itself. This doesn't mean listing workers by name but categorising them into groups of people, such as ‘storeroom staff’ or ‘on-call personnel’.

Could violence – verbal, physical or sexual – be possible? What would be the result of this happening for the employee, the business and the client? Could hostage taking or false imprisonment be a distinct possibility?

Evaluate risks such as these by taking staff opinions and insight into your plan to develop precautions. And if you share your workplace with another business, consider how your work affects them and their workers – and vice versa.

3. Precautions 

It’s likely you’ve already got processes in place to deal with potential problems before they arise, but it’s important to take another look at these and consider how the risks to your employees might have changed since the last audit.

Having a clear paper trail isn’t only beneficial from a legislative and business viewpoint, but also to make things easier and faster should the worst ever happen. Giving other colleagues the ability to know quickly the whereabouts of an employee should they fail to return to the office is a tool you need to have in your arsenal.

If you’ve been looking at or trialling the introduction of technology into the workplace, get the numbers on how many staff have tech-enabled protective measures like personal alarms, mobile phones or panic alarms so you can assess how effective these measures are and which are best for further implementation.

4. Record and implement findings

Complete a risk assessment based on all the above, creating an effective and thorough action plan that combines all your significant findings – the hazards, how employees might be harmed, and the measures you’ve got in place to control risk factors.

Whether it’s staff training in de-escalation skills, first aid tuition or the provision of personal protective equipment like Matrix’s LoneWorker safety device, implement practical measures to reduce risk without delay.

5. Review and update

Remember that risk assessments should never be a one-time activity – they should always be constantly reviewed and updated to reactively respond to the changing nature of the workplace and communities your employees work in.

But it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that it’s not the risk assessment that will make your employees’ lives safer, but the practical measures you put in place as a result of it.

Do away with manual processes, make things easier for yourself and embrace the safety benefits technology and, in particular, telematics can bring to your business to give you and your employees peace of mind at work.

About the author

Mark Packman is the Chief Executive of Matrix Telematics. 

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